You snagged a cheap flight without realizing that its low price was at the cost of a long layover.
Or, perhaps, your plane has been delayed for multiple hours due to bad weather.
Maybe you even booked your itinerary knowing full well that it required a multi-hour sit and, at the time, thought it wouldn’t be that bad.
However you got here, you’re now facing something most travelers consider even less pleasant than being squeezed into a small seat: Hours upon hours in airport purgatory.
While you can’t make your flight leave any faster, the good news is airport layovers don’t have to be all bad.
If you look beyond the duty-free shops and over-priced beverages, most modern airports actually offer plenty of activities to help the time fly by.
Storing your luggage at the airport
Several Hour Layover? Stow Your Luggage as Soon as Possible
If you’re facing a multi-hour layover in between two connecting flights with the same airline, the chances are that your larger suitcases will be stowed by the airline, and you won’t even have to worry about collecting them until reaching your final destination.
But, what about all of your carry-on belongings? Especially if you tried to beat your airline’s luggage weight limit by stashing as much as possible into a backpack or tote, consider how much more comfortable you might be shedding the extra weight for a few hours.
Of course, you can’t just leave your luggage in the seating area. Announcements stating that “for security reasons, baggage left unattended will be removed and destroyed” are ubiquitous to airports everywhere.
See Also: The Best Airline Rewards Card of 2016
Instead, consider paying to stash your baggage in a secure storage location. The fee is usually minimal—between $5-$7 per bag. And, while storing your bags will take an extra 15 minute, doing so means that you get to move around unencumbered.
To find out what kind of luggage storage options your stopover airport offers, just Google “luggage storage + airport name,” or ask the information desk once you arrive.
Tip: When preparing to drop your bags off at a luggage facility, be sure to have your ID handy. Also, make sure each bag is tagged with your contact information. To be sure there aren’t any mix-ups at the time of collection, consider snapping an image of your luggage with your smartphone.
Now that you’re free to move around the airport sans extra bags, what should you do to pass the time?
Airport lounge. Image via flightfox.com
Want to Get Comfortable Between Flights? Consider Paying for a Private Airport Lounge
Most major airlines have their own private lounges that give free access to high-status fliers, big spenders, or lounge members. If you travel only a few times a year, you might have a tough time justifying the cost of an annual membership.
However, just because you didn’t spring for a first-class seat doesn’t mean you can’t gain access to the comfort and serenity of a private lounge. That’s because some lounges let you in on one-day or short-term passes.
What are the advantages of springing for a day pass to a private lounge?
Private Airport Lounges Offer Peace and Quiet
Instead of the cramped seating and crowds of public spaces in airport terminals, guests inside a private lounge can enjoy large, comfortable chairs and plenty of space. The ambiance is generally kept quiet (think library voices), although most feature several large screen TVs with captions on for entertainment.
Private airport Lounges Usually Offer Faster Wi-Fi
There’s nothing more frustrating than hoping to catch up on some work while sitting at the airport, only to discover that your terminal’s wifi is sluggish or capped after a certain amount of minutes.
Private lounges, on the other hand, usually offer fast wifi that’s free with your daily pass. Take advantage of ample outlets to charge up your laptop or other devices before your next flight. Additionally, some make computers available to travelers who would prefer not to type up emails on their iPads.
Related: Wi-Fi Safety Tips For Smarter Travel
Airline-Affiliated Lounges Offer a Higher Caliber of Customer Assistance
In addition to getting a little peace and quiet, paying for a day pass to access a lounge affiliated with your airline can often get you better customer service.
That’s because airline-affiliated lounges are typically staffed by your actual airline, not general airport employees. This means that staff has access to the airline’s complete range of reservation systems and flight details to help you with just about anything that might require an agent, including changing your seat, checking for upgrades, altering your reservations, verifying connections, tracing wayward baggage—basically anything you could need help with.
Even better, unlike airline agents at busy customer-service counters, getting help in a lounge rarely involves waiting in line.
Private Lounges Sometimes Offer Free Refreshments and an Open Bar
While you won’t find plated food service or hot meals, most private lounges offer a generous supply of sundries such as nuts, crackers, pretzels, and pastries. Some also make an assortment of soft drinks, beers, wines, and popular liquors available. Depending on the location, you might be invited to pour your own beverages. However, some cities require a waitperson and bartender to offer service.
Even considering the cost of tipping, that still beats paying $5-$10 for drinks at a regular airport bar.
Find Your Center in an Airport Yoga or Meditation Room
If you’d prefer not to pay for a private lounge, but would still like to escape the hostile environment that is an average terminal, consider checking to see if your airport offers a meditation or yoga room.
Airports including O’Hare in Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Burlington in Vermont all have set aside spaces for yoga. More than giving you a chance to recharge, engaging your body with some gentle stretching can help to ward off cramps, jet lag, and even dangerous blog clots that are all an inherent risk of long flights.
While San Francisco is one of a growing number of airports that are creating rooms for both yoga and a quieter space for meditation, nondenominational prayer rooms can be found at many airports around the world. These peaceful spaces are a refreshing alternative to hitting the airport bar for travelers looking to reduce the stress of travel.
Pay for Pampering at an Airport Spa
A decade ago the closest thing to spa services available in an airport were those chair massages that were located smack in the middle of walkways—not exactly an environment that facilitated mental escape.
However, modern airport spas are taking pampering to new heights, with many offering facials, massages, manicures, and blow-outs to travelers looking to indulge in some self-care as they pass the time.
Some airport spas are affiliated with the airlines themselves. For example, JetBlue has devoted an entire 1,000 square feet in New York’s JFK for a spa all its own, where any passenger with 15 minutes to spare can pop in for Swedish massages, acupuncture, manicures, or a blow-out.
Delta passengers stopping over in San Francisco, Vegas, New York LaGuardia, and Dallas can take stop by the airline’s own brand of beauty bars. Traveling internationally? British Airways’ Elemis Skincare-branded spa at London Heathrow is located in Terminal 5. Or, those heading down under can visit the ultra-posh Aurora Spa in Qantas’ First Class terminal at Sydney International.
There’s also XpresSpa, a private spa company that’s almost exclusively in airports and has over 56 locations worldwide.
Unwind at an Airport Art Exhibit
Stopping over in a city that you’ve never had the chance to explore often feels like a missed opportunity to experience what the area has to offer.
However, a growing number of airports in the United States and abroad have begun working with local museums and institutions to give travelers who are just passing through a taste of local culture by offering rotating shows of sculptures, photography, pottery exhibits, paintings and—in Toronto Pearson International Airport—even dinosaur casts.
How the exhibits are displayed is often as interesting as the art, itself. Some installations have been put up in atriums, while other airports have dedicated galleries. Art displays can even be found in increasing frequency along moving walkways or near ticketing areas.
Stopping over that the same airport as last year? Art exhibits are rotated out every so often, so what’s on display is likely to change between your visits.
Facing an Extra Long Layover? Consider Escaping the Airport Altogether
Leaving the airport on a layover is generally inadvisable, as you’re risking getting stuck in traffic, becoming lost, or otherwise held up and missing your flight. However, if you’re facing sitting around for ten or more hours, it might be worthwhile to consider escaping the confines of the airport and getting some actual fresh air.
If you’re interested in exploring your stopover city, consider scheduling a tour with a local private town car or limo service. These companies are generally a go-to option for visiting executives, thanks to their posh vehicles and first-class service.
Given that many utilize technology to track traffic patterns and stay on top of flight updates, a private town car or limo service also offers travelers on a stopover greater assurances that they won’t get stuck in traffic of lost—which can’t be said about hopping on a local bus, train, or taxi.
In addition to chauffeuring you around in a comfy vehicle and pointing out a city’s well-known sites, private drivers can often recommend lesser-known local points of interest, restaurants, or even a beautiful park where you can get outside and stretch your legs before your next flight.
Have Over 12 Hours In Between Flights? Consider Booking a Hotel Room
On the rare occasion that you’re stuck at an airport for twelve hours or more, it’s worth considering just heading straight to a nearby hotel for the unbeatable privacy of having your own room.
While it costs more upfront, checking into a room means that you’re less likely to keep spending money at airport shops and restaurants out of boredom. In addition to the joy of being able to stretch, take a shower, change your clothes, and kick back to watch TV without interruption or rush, most hotels offer room service so that you don’t even need to leave until it’s time to check back in for your next flight.
Don’t Forget to Check into Your Connecting Flight
Airports are large, sprawling places that often require hopping on a tram to reach another terminal. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that your next gate is around the corner and risk missing your flight!
If you’ve exited security, remember that you’ll need to leave an additional time buffer to get back through. Traveling internationally? There’s also immigration to consider.
Finally, don’t forget that most airlines close the aircraft door 20-30 minutes before their scheduled departure time. Meaning that, even if your aircraft is sitting at the gate, security procedures may already have been put in place that prevents the crew from opening the door back up.
Your ticket should show a scheduled boarding time that’s between 90-45 minutes before departure. Be sure to start gathering your possessions (including any stored luggage) well before so that you can arrive early enough to scout out the area, relocate in case of a gate change, and stay on top of any potential changes.
Still Not Sure What to Do on Your Stopover?
You wouldn’t think it, but most airports have websites that list the services, restaurants, and entertainment options available, including information about play areas for families and on-site medical facilities.
You can also search Google for “what to do at + airport name” to see other passenger suggestions. However, my hands-down favorite resource remains the website Sleeping In Airports. Not only can you find detailed information about the best places to grab a little shuteye in airports around the world, Sleeping In Airports lists detailed information regarding available amenities and activities at almost every airport as provided by traveler tips and reviews.
Do you have any tips for what to do during a long airport layover? Please share them in the comments below!
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